• Leadership

What is Leadership?

RBL offer 4 key principles that form the foundation of effective leadership

Tuesday 19 July 2016


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As the UK welcomes a new Prime Minister, and the US awaits a new President it is worth considering the fundamentals of leadership and what an effective leader needs to bring to the party – even if our primary interest at IEDP is the leadership of private and public sector organizations.

Whole libraries have been written on the subject of corporate leadership, with new theories springing up with irritating regularity. Great man theory, servant leadership, authentic leadership, born-not-made, etc. etc. – but is it possible to draw all of this together to articulate some basic principles?

In an informative recent article RBL’s Norm Smallwood and Dave Ulrich attempt to do this. They point out that while most thinking about leadership over the last fifty years has drawn insights from psychology – and the core belief that as a leader one must understand what is ‘inside’ oneself – other disci­plines from marketing and finance which are more ‘outside/in’ than ‘inside/out’ also need to be acknowledged. These disciplines based on business logic tend to focus on outcomes and results; a focus that forms the first of four key principles they identify.

In their article titled ‘What is Leadership?’ Smallwood and Ulrich confront what on the one hand sounds like an easy and obvious question, and on the other hand is so complex as to be mystifying, and find a middle ground to respond to the question.


These are the four key principles the authors suggest form the foundation of effective leadership: 

  1. Effective leaders should start with results. Leadership is about who we are, what we do, and what we know, but it is equally about what we deliver. Some leadership results are outside the organization (cus­tomer share, investor confidence, commu­nity reputation) and some results are inside the organization (employee productivity and organization capability).
  2. Effective leaders have nailed the funda­mentals. There are some basic rules that all leaders need to master. Absent this mas­tery of five basics, leaders will be burdened by their weaknesses. Leaders need to shape the future, get things done, manage others, invest in others, and demonstrate personal proficiency.
  3. Effective leaders build leadership more than leaders by creating a Leadership Brand. Individual leaders matter, but lead­ership comes from building the infrastructure that devel­ops the next generation of leaders. When leadership starts with and focuses on cus­tomers, it is more likely to endure.
  4. Effective leaders ensure leadership sus­tainability. Leadership is an enduring pat­tern not an isolated event. When leaders change their pattern of behaviour to make the requirements of their position, they are sustainable. 

Click DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE to read the article ‘What is Leadership?’

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